Iranian Company Replaces China in South Pars Project: Minister

Iranian Company Replaces China in South Pars Project: Minister

October, 06, 2019 – 14:15

TEHRAN (Tasnim)

Iranian company PetroPars has taken over a project on development of phase 11 of the country’s South Pars gas field as a Chinese contractor dropped out of the project, oil minister announced.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said PetroPars has undertaken to carry out the unfinished project to develop phase 11 of South Pars gas field after the Chinese contractor left the project.

The Iranian company is going to install the first jacket (steel frame supporting the deck of a fixed offshore platform) in the phase 11 of South Pars to produce 500 million cubic feet of gas by March 2020, Zanganeh added.

In July 2017, French company Total signed a $1 billion deal to develop the South Pars gas field in cooperation with China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and PetroPars.

But the French pulled out of the deal in May 2018 in light of a decision by US President Donald Trump to pull his country out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Later, the CNPC formally replaced Total in the project, but it suspended investment in Iran later in December 2018 in response to US pressures.

The investment halt followed four rounds of talks between Chinese officials and senior US authorities who urged CNPC to refrain from injecting fresh financing in Iran.

South Pars is the world’s largest gas field.

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السقوط الكبير للاقتصاد على طريقة الحريريّة السياسية؟

 

أكتوبر 4, 2019

د. وفيق إبراهيم

ما يحدث في لبنان حالياً أكبر من أزمة اقتصادية عابرة، يمكن للنظام السياسي إيجاد حلول لها بالكثير من الدَّيْن، فالمزيد من الاقتراض يشبهُ في لبنان والبلدان التي على شاكلته، كبالعِ سُمّ مُحلّى ومفعوله القاتل بطيءٌ وتدريجيٌ وحاسم.

لذلك لا بدّ من الإشارة إلى تراجع نظرية التحشيد الطائفي والمذهبي والشعارات الوطنية والإقليمية أمام صعود الجوع وتفلّت جياعه بشكل غير مسبوق لم تعرفه بلاد الأرز منذ تشكّل دولتها في 1948. بما يعني اضمحلال نظرية جذب الناس باستحضار القدّيسين والأولياء والأئمة والأخطار الخارجية، فهؤلاء لا يتحمّلون عيارات فساد على النموذج اللبناني، أيّ الفساد السياسي والاقتصادي قاعدة الحكم الأساسية، فيما النزاهة استثناء طفيف.

لماذا يتفلّت الشارع؟

الاضطرابات التي شملت العاصمة ومدناً وقرى في الشمال والجنوب والبقاع هي عيّنة بسيطة للمقبل من الأحداث. فالتراجع الاقتصاديّ مستمرّ بمعدلات بطالة كارثية وتضخم قاتل، وسط غياب مرتفع جداً لخدمات الكهرباء والمياه العذبة ورفع النفايات المنتشرة في زوايا لبنان الذي يفترض أنه بلد سياحي.

هذه الاضطرابات لا تزال بسيطة وغريزية تعكس انسداداً كاملاً للآفاق أمام الشباب اللبناني الذي تضاعفت مصائبه الداخلية بالانقطاع شبه الكامل لإمكانية العمل في الخارج. فالخليج متوقف عن استقباله بنسب عالية جداً وكذلك أوروبا وكندا والولايات المتحدة الأميركية. ويُضاف التضييق المصرفي الكبير بقرار مقاطعة أميركي على حركة التحويلات، ما استتبع تراجعاً في تحويلات المغتربين اللبنانيين إلى ذويهم في الداخل بمعدلات عالية جداً.

كما أنّ الدعم الإقليمي للقوى السياسية في الداخل اللبناني مقطوع بدوره وينعكس تضييقاً على الدوائر الشعبيّة المستفيدة منه، ومجمل الحركة الاقتصادية في البلاد راكدة بيعاً وشراء، وإلا كيف نستوعب إقدام رئيس الحكومة سعد الحريري على إقفال تلفزيون المستقبل الخاصة والمعبّرة عن سياسة حزبه المستقبل واتجاهاته الإقليمية والدولية، ربطاً بما للإعلام من قدرات على التحشيد.

إنّ مجمل هذه العناصر المذكورة المرتبطة بفساد سياسي من النظام الطائفي الحاكم للبلاد ووكلائه في الإدارة والقضاء نهبت الاقتصاد اللبناني بقسمَيْه الخاص والعام مبدّدين الأملاك البحرية والعامة وعابثين بالجمارك والمرافئ والمعابر والمطارات والصفقات، فارضين عشرات آلاف الوظائف لأنصارهم في القطاع العام من دون أدنى حاجة إليهم مكرّسين الموالين اليهم قيادات في مواقعهم ما أدّى الى تعطيل الأعمال السليمة وتصاعد مفهوم الرشى من السريّة إلى العلنية من دون أيّ حياء أو مساءلة قانونيّة، حتى أنها أصبحت ضريبة إضافية يدفعها صاحب الحاجة من دون مساءلة أيضاً، ولم يعُد التشهير بسياسيّي لبنان في الإعلام ووسائل الاتصال الجماهيري يكفي لإيقاف فسادهم، لأنهم يعرفون أنّ بضعة أيام فقط على رواج الاتهامات كافية لكي ينساها الناس بغياب أدوات المتابعة الحزبية والجماهيرية.

هناك ملاحظة لا يجوز إغفالها وتتعلّق بإصرار قسم من الطبقة السياسية الحاكمة في لبنان على إغلاق الحدود مع سورية ومنع التعامل الاقتصادي معها مع الاكتفاء بمرور اجتماعي بسيط، وذلك تلبية لأوامر ارتباطاتها الدولية الأميركية والعربية من السعودية الذين أرادوا إسقاط نظامها السياسي. وهذا تسبّب إلى جانب فساد الحكام السياسيين بضرب قطاع الخدمات اللبناني وإضعاف السياحة ما أصاب نصف اللبنانيين تقريباً.

كيف وصل الوضع إلى هذا المستوى الإفقاري؟

تميّزت مرحلة المارونية السياسية العام 1948 وحتى بداية التسعينيات بولاء للغرب والخليج إنما على قاعدة فساد متدنّ وإنتاج إداري عالي المستوى، واهتمام مركّز على قطاع الخدمات والسياحة، وكانت الحدود السورية رئة الاقتصاد اللبناني، على الرغم من تبعيّة لبنان السياسيّة لدول لا تزال تعادي سورية حتى الآن.

هذا النمط السياسي المتدبّر انقلب رأساً على عقب مع وصول المرحوم رفيق الحريري الى رئاسة حكومة لبنان مدعوماً من ثلاثية أميركية سوريّة وسعودية، فحمل معه نمطاً شبه مستسلم يوالي فيه هذه التغطيات الداعمة بشكل مفتوح.

مقابل هذه التغطية انتزع الحريري ميزة إدارة الاقتصاد اللبناني بنظرية الإنماء بالدَّيْن على قطاعات غير منتجة وفي بلدٍ لا إنتاج فيه، وحين حذّره اقتصاديون موالون له من مخاطر هذه النظرية أجابهم بأنّ»السلام المقبل مع «إسرائيل» بإمكانه إعادة الازدهار إلى لبنان وتسديد كامل الديون».

لم يكتفِ «الشهيد» بهذه الحدود، ففتح أموال الدولة لإرضاء المحاور الشيعية والدرزية والمسيحية وإلحاقها بمشروعه، حتى أنه استعمل النفوذ الغربي لجذب القيادات الكنسيّة على شاكلة الكاردينال الراحل صفير.

هذا ما ضاعف من حجم الدين العام الى جانب استشراء حركة فساد أكملت على ما تبقى من أموال اللبنانيين، وواصل ورثته تطبيق طريقته السياسية الاقتصادية إنما مع شيء إضافي وهو التذرّع باندلاع الأزمة السورية، لإقفال العلاقات الاقتصادية مع دمشق والسماح لبعض أنواع الإرهاب باستخدام الشمال والمخيّمات مراكز لشحن الإرهابيين فكرياً ونقلهم لوجيستياً الى سورية. فكيف يمكن لبلد في حالة حرب داخلية مخيفة مثل سورية ان يؤمّن الكهرباء 24 ساعة يومياً، بانياً عبر شركات إيرانية شبكة كهربائية كاملة ويعمل على بناء أخرى فيما لبنان ينتج الكهرباء من استئجار بواخر تركية بمليارات الدولارات؟

وكيف تستطيع شركة سيمنس الألمانية بناء شبكة كهرباء في العراق بعام واحد ولبنان رفض عروضها مواصلاً استئجار البواخر؟

هذه هي الحريريّة السياسيّة من الأب الشهيد الى الابن المتّهم اليوم بإهداء راقصة جنوب أفريقية 16 مليون دولار دفعة واحدة.

يبدو أنّ البلاد تمرّ بمرحلة أفول الحريرية السياسية سياسياً واقتصادياً، لكن البديل فيها يحتاج لوقت كافٍ للتشكل. وكلّ الخشية أن لا تكون هذه المرحلة الانتقالية مرحلة اضطرابات شعبية عنيفة ومروّعة قد تستفيد منها فئات خارجية لإعادة الاقتتال الطائفي الى البلاد. فاحذروا أيّها السياسيون من مقبل الأيام، وذلك بالالتزام بسياسات تغيير جذرية تتطلب أولاً ما لا يمكن ان تفعلوه، وهو رحيلكم وتخلّيكم عن السلطة لمصلحة لبنان الجديد.

Occupy Down Town Beirut! Is Lebanon’s Economy Collapsing beyond Resuscitation?

Occupy Down Town Beirut! Is Lebanon’s Economy Collapsing beyond Resuscitation?

By Fatima Haydar – Beirut

Lebanon, the tiny Middle Eastern country on the Mediterranean Sea, is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Almost three decades had passed and Lebanon is still suffering from the consequences of that war which ended in 1990.

The economic situation in Lebanon is beyond repair; and the situation is getting even worse. Thanks to the dire economy, it is the third-highest indebted country in the world in terms of the ratio of debt-to-GDP.

Economist and Professor of Finance at the Lebanese University, Dr. Ali Awdeh, tackles the economic crisis in Lebanon in an interview with al-Ahed News.

“We are facing a real crisis which is being exaggerated by the complex political situation,” Dr. Awdeh said, adding that “this is not the first time Lebanon has faced such a crisis. Indeed, we have had more difficult times than what we are currently facing.”

He compared the economic situation in Lebanon prior and post 2000, “If we are talking about the budget deficit, the public debt, the trade deficit, or the Balance of Payments [BoP] deficit, sometime after the war between 2000 and 2002, then Lebanon has experienced worse times; though, there was no state of panic.”

“However, nowadays, the gravity of what makes people feel how bad the situation is, is that the political situation is worse and more complicated than before; the danger lies in the polarity of division among the parties and the depth of political differences; Not to mention, the problem posed by corruption, which has become more deeply rooted than it has been in the previous period,” Dr. Awdeh explained.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese economist explained that both the financial and monetary situations in the country are facing difficulties. Though, he clarified that the situation was not as bad as it seemed, “there is stability in the banking sector in general, and the monetary sector is also fairly stable.”

Conversely, the scarcity of US dollars is causing a crisis for Lebanese citizens and businesses. Yet, this scarcity is not “spontaneous”, as Dr. Awdeh puts it, explaining that the Central Bank was following “this policy of withdrawing US dollars from Lebanese markets to keep as much of the American currency in Lebanon. But at the same time, the Central Bank cannot control the circulation of dollars.”

Dr. Awdeh shed light on the crisis caused by the budget deficit, specifically the balance of payments and trade deficits. He said that “due to lack of sound financial decision, the financial policies set forth for the coming 20 or so years were not on the right track.”

According to Dr. Awdeh, the monetary policy was trying to fill in the gaps caused by the financial decision, though the former was unable to cover all of the latter’s aspects.

The economist stressed the need for a sound financial decision, which will pave the way for a less dependent economy. “It is a chain or a cycle, the first step being a sound financial decision-making and financial reforms; and thus, directing public finance into the right direction,” Dr. Awdeh clarified.

Furthermore, he tackled the policies of Bank of Lebanon [BDL] – the central bank of Lebanon – and its governor Riad Salameh, which had been in place since 1993, noting that financial and monetary policies should be “more pragmatic” – in other words, according to the economist, they should be more flexible – to change with the changing economic circumstances.

Dr. Awdeh focused on the positive and negative aspects of these policies. He spoke of currency exchange rates, interest rates and dollarization.

“The fixed currency exchange rate has had some positive aspects at first, as people had no confidence in the Lebanese pound,” he said, adding that this policy led to a state of stability in the exchange rate and a stability – to some extent – in inflation.

Regarding interests, Dr. Awdeh saw that it would have been much better if the Lebanese government followed a more flexible approach – one that would increase and decrease in accordance with economic developments.

The dollarization – according to Dr. Awdeh – was another failure in the policies of the BDL. He explained that the Lebanese economy “is very much dollarized and a large amount of deposits at the banks are in US dollars. As a result, a large part of the loans granted by banks are in US dollars.

He said that the BDL “could not solve this problem, so the economy remained dollarized while the exchange rate was constant.”

Nonetheless, the expert came to conclusion that many of the BDL’s policies and measures aimed to enhance the situation, but what happened was the opposite. He said the BDL should have paid attention to what he called “side effects”.

Though, Dr. Awdeh stressed the necessity on the part of the Lebanese government to take the necessary measures to deal with the crisis saying, “This is an extraordinary situation – a situation that required greater alert from the government”.

In a parallel notion, the economist related the economic situation in Lebanon to the regional and international arena. Dr. Awdeh believed that “it is no one’s interest – at home or abroad – that the economic situation in Lebanon collapses.”

He further added, “Regardless of whether they are [regional and international states] on our side or not, there are about 2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon; and if the economy collapses, they will leave and become other countries’ burden.”

“So, no one has an interest in the significant deterioration of Lebanon’s economic situation,” Dr. Awdeh concluded.

ثلاثة توائم بين الوحدة والاستقلال والتفكك والانتداب

يوليو 24, 2019

البروفسور فريد البستاني

يتشكل من السياسة والاقتصاد والإدارة ثلاثة توائم تقوم عليها ركائز الدولة، ويؤدي النظر إلى حال كلّ منها إلى استخلاص حال الآخر، ويبدو الرهان على معالجة مشاكل أيّ منها دون معالجة مشاكل الآخر وهما، خصوصاً، عندما تكون المشاكل من النوع الذي يواجهه لبنان ذات طابع بنيوي، تحتاج إلى علاجات جذرية وقد تخطت مرحلة العلاجات الموضعيّة والمسكنات، وتصبح التوأمة أشد وضوحاً في المشكلة والعلاج عندما نتناول قدرة كل من مساحات السياسة والاقتصاد والإدارة على التماسك أو على ممارسة الاستقلال. وهما ركيزة أي قدرة على النهوض، ومصدر كل قوة، فبلا جسد متماسك لا قوة وبلا استقلال ولا قرار. ويبدو لنا مباشرة كيف يؤدي التفكك إلى إضعاف القرار المستقل واستدراج التدخلات، بينما يؤدي التماسك إلى حماية الاستقلال كشرط لحرية القرار.

في السياسة لا يمكن لأحد إنكار حقيقة حال الفدرلة التي تسيطر على تركيبة الدولة ولو بصورة غير معلنة، حيث التداخل بين الوطني والطائفي يقوم على تسوية عبر عنها اتفاق الطائف، ومن قبله الصيغة والميثاق، باعتبار التنظيم الطائفي للدولة ومؤسساتها مصدر الاطمئنان بين مكوّناتها، وبقدر ما أثبتت هذه المعادلة صحتها في تحقيق هذا الهدف، فقد منعت قيام دولة القانون الذي يتساوى الجميع أمامه، وفقاً لقاعدة المواطنة التي يقوم عليها كل قانون، والمواطنة لا تتعايش مع جعل العلاقة بين الدولة والمواطن تمرّ بوسيط هو الطائفة، التي يشكل الانتماء إليها مصدر اطمئنان في التوظيف والخدمات ويشكّل الاحتماء بها ملاذاً في الأزمات. وهذا النوع من الفدرالية غير المعلنة ينسحب بصورة مباشرة على كثير من أوجه الحياة السياسية فتصير كل مؤسسة عامة محسوبة على طائفة، ويصير قانون الانتخاب مكرّساً لتتويج زعامات للطوائف، وتتحول التعيينات في الوظائف الأساسية في الدولة محكومة بتوازنات طائفية ينتج عنها تحول ولاء الكثير من قادة هذه المؤسسات لزعماء طوائفهم أكثر من الولاء لهرمية الأداء المؤسسي في الدولة.

هذا التفكك السياسي الناتج عن الطائفية لا يعني أن إلغاءها هو الحل السحري في بلد يشعر كل من فيه أنه أقلية تعيش قلقاً وجودياً، في زمن صحوة الأقليات وتغلغل التطرّف في الأكثريات في منطقة تعصف بها رياح التفكك والعنف، وما تعنيه رؤية مخاطر التفكك اللاحق بالدولة بنتيجة التنظيم الطائفي القول بأن البحث يجب أن يبدأ من هنا، من كيفية الجمع بين الحاجة للطمأنينة التي يوفرها التنظيم الطائفي، والحاجة للمواطنة التي يحتاجها بناء الدولة، خصوصاً أن دولة الجماعات لا يمكن أن تكون مستقلة بقرارها وكل جماعة فيها تقيم علاقاتها بالخارج دون المرور بالدولة ومؤسساتها، وتستدرج هذا الخارج في لحظات الأزمات أملاً بزيادة المكاسب أو طلباً لتفادي الخسائر. فالدولة الوطنية هي دولة المواطنة، بعدما شهدنا ونشهد في دولة الطوائف ما نسمّيه بحروب الآخرين على أرضنا، وهي حروبنا نحن التي خضناها بأرزاقنا وأرواح أبنائنا وبدمائنا بوهم تحقيق انتصار هنا أو تجنّب هزيمة هناك. فالاستقلال والوحدة توأم كما التفكّك والتبعيّة توأم.

حال الاقتصاد يشبه كثيراً حال الدولة، حيث تتضخّم قطاعات وتضمر قطاعات ويفتقد جسد الاقتصاد والمال للتناسق والانسجام، فالضمور في القطاعات الاقتصادية الرئيسية التي يقوم عليها الازدهار يرافقه توسّع هائل في القطاع العام الذي تورم وتضخم بصورة عجائبية تفيض عن حاجة الدولة والاقتصاد، وعن قدرتهما على تأمين حاجات هذا القطاع، مقابل تدنٍّ هائل في مستوى الخدمات، وشكوى عامة من الفساد والفوضى والتسيّب، وبالتوازي نما قطاع المصارف بصورة شكلت مصدر ضمان للوضع المالي بقدراته المالية الكبيرة التي تعادل وحدها ثلاثة أضعاف حجم الاقتصاد الوطني، لكن الاقتصاد لا يستفيد إلا من نسبة ضئيلة من قدرات القطاع المصرفي المكرّسة بصورة رئيسيّة لخدمة دين الدولة وتمويل عجزها بفوائد مرتفعة لا يستطيع القطاع الاقتصادي الاستدانة بسقوفها العالية، بينما زادت موجودات مصرف لبنان وشكلت مصدر أمان لسعر صرف الليرة بحيث صارت تعادل وحدها كل حجم الاقتصاد، لكن في دولة ترزح تحت الديون، تبحث عن مصادر لتمويل عجزها، وسداد خدمة ديونها بديون جديدة. وهذا التفكك وفقدان الانسجام والتناسق بين مكونات العملية الاقتصادية والمالية وتفاعل مقدراتها وأجزائها، هو الأساس أيضاً في فقدان القرار المستقل في القدرة على معالجة أزماتنا الاقتصادية والمالية، فقد تحول الدين المتضخم إلى مصدر تأثير على الاستقلال المالي، حيث صار لبنان رهينة للخارج وقرار الخارج بنتيجة البحث عن ديون بفوائد منخفضة من جهة والوقوع في لوائح التصنيف الائتماني من جهة أخرى، التي تعدها المؤسسات المالية الدولية للدول التي تقع تحت عبء ديون كبيرة تتخطى حجم اقتصادها كحال لبنان.

أما في الإدارة، فقد تحولت المؤسسات التي بنيت في أواخر الخمسينيات وأوائل الستينيات من القرن الماضي، إلى أطر عاجزة عن استيعاب تغير الحاجات التي فرضها تطور الخدمات والاقتصاد والحاجات الجديدة، وبدلاً من صياغة هيكلية عصرية للإدارة، نشأت بنى وهياكل عشوائية وفوضوية، لا يجمعها رابط وكثير منها لا يخضع لأي نوع من الرقابة المالية والإدارية فتحوّلت إلى جزر متباعدة متنافرة تشبه فدرالية الطوائف التي تحكم السياسة، وصار التوظيف من خارج القانون أمراً عادياً، وتغلغل فيها الفساد حتى نخرها كالسوس، وكما شكّل التفكك سبباً للتبعية في السياسة والاقتصاد تحول التفكك في الإدارة إلى مدخل لمرجعيات بديلة للمرجعية الهرمية الطبيعية، وصارت المؤسسات الإدارية شكلاً ظاهرياً لدولة وامتداداً عميقاً للفدرالية غير المعلنة بين مرجعيات الطوائف.

الحقيقة الصعبة التي بات علينا إدراكها هي أنه بقدر ما نحقق من الوحدة نحقق من الاستقلال في قراراتنا، وبقدر ما تبدو الوحدة مرتبطة بإزالة الفوارق بين الطوائف والمؤسسات الإدارية والقطاعات الاقتصادية، تبدو إزالة الفوارق بصورة كاملة مخاطرة مستحيلة في ظل الخصوصيات التي تدفع بكل مكونات المجتمع كما الاقتصاد كما الإدارة، إلى التمسك بما تعتبره مكاسبها الخاصة أو ما تسمّيه بخصوصياتها وتصنع لها نظريات تناسب الدعوة لعدم المساس بها، واعتبار أي اقتراب منها تهديداً وجودياً يثير القلق والخوف والذعر، ولأن الحلول المستدامة هي حلول تنتج بالوعي والتوافق فإن الحل المتوازن بين الخصوصيات والحاجة للوحدة، يجب أن يأتي رضائياً بين الطوائف وبين قطاعات الاقتصاد ومكوّنات الإدارة، بنتيجة الاقتناع باستحالة الاستمرار على ما كانت عليه الحال من قبل، ما يعني الحاجة لحوار صادق على كل المستويات، يجيب عن سؤال حول طبيعة الحدود التي لا تضرّ من الخصوصيات فيحافظ عليها، وعن نوعية الفوارق الضارة فيزيلها، ليحقق مقداراً من الوحدة والاستقلال هو الحاجة الضرورية لبناء الدولة، ويحتمل درجة من التمايزات والخصوصيات تؤمن الاطمئنان والرضا، فيتقبل ما يترتب على هذه الخصوصيات من تفاعل مع الخارج ليس ممكناً تفاديه في زمن بات العالم كله يتأثر ويؤثر ببعضه بعضاً سياسياً واقتصادياً، وتتوسع فيه الروابط بين الجماعات الطائفية والعرقية والأتنية عبر الحدود، وبين مرجعياتها ومكوناتها داخل الحدود، لكن دون تهديد سيادة الدول وهرمية مؤسساتها.

نائب الشوف في مجلس النواب اللبناني.

One country, two sessions, multiple tweaks

Source

One country, two sessions, multiple tweaks

March 07, 2019

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

Contrary to Western doom and gloom interpretations, China’s two sessions now taking place in Beijing offer a fascinating mix of realpolitik and soft power. Every year, the two sessions involve the National People’s Congress (NPC) – the legislative body – and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – the political advisory body – laying down the Chinese equivalent of the state of the union.

Premier Li Keqiang’s report acknowledged that Beijing foresees “graver and more complex” risks and “both predictable and unpredictable” challenges, with the conclusion that  China must be “prepared to fight tough battles” in 2019. It was undiluted realpolitik.

An economic growth target in the range of 6.0% to 6.5% is still massive in terms of the expansion of global capitalism – irrespective of the usual suspects carping on about China “stalling” or mired “in deep crisis.”

A deficit-to-GDP ratio set at 2.8% – slightly higher than the 2.6% last year – is not exactly a problem for such a huge economy.

What’s quite intriguing is how “Made in China 2025” – the full designation – simply vanished from the 2019 Government Work Report.

Yet the policy remains – transmuted in the report on the expansion of “smart plus.” By extending tax cuts for manufacturers and small-business taxpayers, Beijing will keep driving no holds barred toward what Li defined as “building up a powerful manufacturing country” – from industrial development to tech innovation.

Prosperity, Sun Tzu-style

The Sun Tzu tweak is that Beijing will tone down promoting the Made in China 2025 drive in public. Yes, the Chinese are learning soft-power techniques – fast.

Beijing’s top targets remain, well, on target; to lift 30 million rural residents from poverty and to double per capita income by next year from a decade earlier, thus arriving at the cherished status of “moderately prosperous society.” By any measure, this is a groundbreaking achievement of historic proportions.

It’s virtually impossible for the West to understand the intricacies of how decisions are made in China. First you consult – broadly, vertically and horizontally. Then you reach a – strategic – consensus. The results are firmly set in annual meetings such as the two sessions and in detailed five-year plans.

The New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are broadly planned all the way to 2049. We are still in the planning stage – implementation, officially, has not even started.

In parallel, geopolitical and geo-economic twists and turns are addressed by constant tweaks and tactical adjustments. That’s the “prepared to fight tough battles” emphasis on Li’s report.

And here lies the challenge posed by the Deng Xiaoping–conceived Chinese system to the mud wrestling of Western democracy. Terminology is irrelevant; call it “socialist democracy” with Chinese characteristics, what matters is if it works. For China.

Terminology actually matters – but only in a Chinese context. Take for instance dixian siwei – which can be loosely translated as grassroots thinking. You hold on to what you have, and rest on a solid foundation, and you stay “sober and strategically focused” when facing new challenges, in the words of President Xi Jinping, who has been using the concept widely. The concept is actually an upgrade of Deng’s “crossing the river while feeling the stones.”

From a Western point of view, what may be open to wide debate is the basis of the concept: “To fully adhere to the party’s political line.” Well, for better or for worse, there’s no other line in the market in terms of 21st-century China. Call it “keep calm and carry on” with Chinese characteristics.

‘Smart plus’ meets BRI

The very few informed China analysts with a Western background, such as Andy Rothman, are adamant: China won’t “collapse” any time soon. Rothman makes a pretty straightforward case: China has already structurally changed, a swift process that crystalized last year.

In a nutshell, economic growth is now driven by consumption, the economy is becoming less and less dependent on exports, and there’s no more pre-eminence of state investment.

And that leads us to the external vectors – and the role of BRI.

This is to a large extent a China goes West strategy. That’s how Beijing has conceptually framed this massive connectivity drive – increased connectivity across the Global South shields emerging markets everywhere from shocks provoked by what can only be construed as Western instability.

Minxin Pei, who now holds the chair in US-China relations at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, is among those accusing the BRI of sliding “into obscurity.”

Yet it’s not a question of “taking money away from Chinese pensioners to build a road to nowhere in a distant land,” as Pei wrote in the Nikkei Asian Review. It’s about BRI as the international partner of Made in China 2025.

And it’s about Beijing offering a unique path, for instance to Central Asian and Southeast Asian neighbors – the BRI as a framework for long-term sustainable development, and mixing industrial, agricultural and hybrid economic models.

And that explains why Beijing is becoming responsive to reconfiguring BRI projects in Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.

Once again, it’s dixian siwei on the move. It’s as if Team Xi have been listening, softly, to that famous closed-door speech in September last year by Deng Pufang, Deng Xiaoping’s son. He urged China to “know its place” and not be “overbearing.” That is now translating into “keep calm and carry a ‘smart plus’ strategy.”

Russia Slides Towards Internal Political Crisis (MUST SEE SouthFront video report!)

Source

February 26, 2019

Saker note: a rather harsh criticism of the Russian Government and the Kremlin in this SouthFront analysis.  Sadly, I cannot say that I disagree with what they say.  In fact, I think that they are spot on and that all the “loyal” Kremlin-bots who deny that there is a serious problem in Russia are wrong.  Supporting Vladimir Putin’s struggle to truly make Russia sovereign again and built a new multi-polar world does not at all entail being blind to all the very real mistakes and even faults of the Russian government.  I can only say that I hope that SF is right and that the current lack of support of the Russian people of the government’s neo-liberal/capitalist policies will force Putin to correct the course and return to the kind of social policies the Russian people clearly want.  It is also high time for Russia to take a harsher stance on the Ukraine, if only because the situation in the Ukraine (political and economic) is a total disaster and because some kind of military escalation in the Ukraine seems inevitable.  All in all, yet another absolutely superb report by SouthFront who sober analysis contrasts favorably with what both flag-wavers and fear-mongers typically produce.

https://southfront.org/wp-content/plugins/fwduvp/content/video.php?path=https%3A%2F%2Fsouthfront.org%2Finternal-political-crisis-russia%2F&pid=1583

Transcript:

This is a critical look at the situation in Russia. The video is based on an article of one of our readers and additional data.

The Russia of 2019 is in a complicated economic and even political situation. Smoldering conflicts near its borders amid continued pressure from the US and NATO affect the situation in the country negatively. This is manifested in society and in national politics. The approval rating of the Russian government and personally of President Vladimir Putin has been decreasing.

According to VCIOM, a state pollster, in January 2019, Putin’s confidence rating was only 32.8%. This is 24% less than in January 2018 when it was 57.2%. At the same time, the confidence rating of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was 7.8%. The approval rating of his cabinet is 37.7% while the disapproval rating is 38.7%. Opposition sources show data, which is far worse for the current Russian leadership.

This tendency is not linked to the foreign policy course of the Kremlin. Rather, it’s the result of the recent series of liberal-minded economic reforms, which look similar to the approaches exercised by the Russian government in the mid-1990s. The decision to increase Value Added Tax amid the slowing Russian economy, especially in the industrial sector, and a very unpopular pension reform increasing the retirement age were both factors contributing to the further growth of discontent in the population.

Russia’s GDP increased by 2.3% in 2018 compared to 1.6% in 2017. However, the Ministry of Economic Development, in its document entitled “Economic Picture” stated that this is linked to “one-time factors” and is not “stable”. The ministry maintained its earlier forecast stating that GDP growth in 2019 will be 1.3%. It confirmed increasing capital outflow. In this case, the repayment of funds to Western creditors by the Russian private sector is one of the causes.

The Ministry of Economic Development also pointed out that the expendable income of the population decreased by 0.2%. Statutory charges, including the increased taxes, are named as one of the reasons. The document says that statutory charges grew by 14.8% in 2018.

Additionally, the population is facing an increasingly restrictive administrative pressure: new fines and other penalties for minor violations in various fields and additional administrative restrictions limiting the freedom of actions of citizens. Restrictive traffic management of big cities, increasing fees for using federal highways as well as policies that are de-facto aimed at small business and self-employed persons are among its landmarks.

Meanwhile the general population has no effective levers of pressure to affect or correct government policy. The public political sphere has become a desert. United Russia (Edinaya Rossiya) is the only political party still de—facto existing in public politics. By now its ideological and organizational capabilities have become exhausted. Other “political parties and organizations” are just media constructs designed to defend the interests of a narrow group of their sponsors. It is hard to find a lawmaker in the State Duma or the Federation Council, who is not affiliated with the cliquish top political elite and oligarch clans.

In the media sphere, the government has failed to explain its current course to the population. A vast majority of the initiatives of Medvedev’s cabinet face a negative reaction from the population. A spate of scandals involving high and middle level government officials made the situation even worse. These cases revealed blatant hypocrisy and the neglectful attitude to duties of some Russian officials.

Some of the officials even became heroes of nationwide memes. Probably, the most prominent of these heroes are Minister of Labour and Employment of the Saratov region Natalia Sokolova and Head of Department for Youth Policy in the Sverdlov Region Olga Glatskikh.

Sokolova advised Russian pensioners to eat “makaroshki” [a derogatory term for maccheroni] to save money and to thus become able to survive on the subsistence minimum of 3,500 RUB [about 50 USD] per month.

“You will become younger, prettier and slimmer! Makaroshki cost is always the same!”, she said during a meeting of the regional parliamentary group on social policy in October 2018 adding that discounted products can be used to create a “balanced, but dietic” menu.

Glatskikh became a meme hero thank to her meeting with young volunteers during the same month. Commenting on the possible financing of youth projects, she told volunteers that the government did not ask their parents “to give birth” to them. So, they should expect nothing from the state.

In the period from 2018 to 2019, there were multiple arrests of officials caught exceeding the limits of their authority and being involved in corruption schemes. In comparison to previous periods, this number had increased by 1.5-2 times. The most recent detention took place right in the Parliament building on January 30. A 32-year-old senator, Rauf Arashukov, is suspected of being a member of a criminal group involved in the 2010 murders of two people and in pressuring a witness to one of the killings. On the same day, authorities detained his father, an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom subsidiary, Raul Arashukov. He is suspected of embezzling natural gas worth 30 billion rubles ($450 million).

However, these actions do not appear to be enough to change the established media situation. After a large-scale corruption scandal in the Ministry of Defense in 2012, which led to almost no consequences for key responsible persons including former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who even continued his carrier in state-linked corporation Rostec. The general public has serious reservations about any real success of anti-corruption efforts.

The aforementioned factors fuel the negative perception of the Medvedev government and Vladimir Putin as the head of state among Russian citizens.

The 2014 events in Crimea showed to the Russian population that its state is ready to defend the interests of the nation and those who describe themselves as Russians even by force of arms. This was the first case when this approach was openly employed in the recent history of Russia. Therefore, the population was enthusiastic and national pride was on the rise. However, the Kremlin failed to exploit these gained opportunities and did not use them to strengthen the Russian state. In fact, up to February 2019, the policy towards eastern Ukraine has been inconsistent. At the same time, Moscow continues to lose its influence in post-Soviet states. This can be observed in both the Caucasus and Central Asia. Even, their close ally, Belarus, occasionally demonstrates unfriendly behavior and focuses its own efforts on the exploitation of economic preferences granted by Russia.

Evaluating the current internal political situation in Russia and its foreign policy course, it’s possible to say that the Russian leadership has lost its clear vision of national development and a firm and consistent policy, which are needed for any great power. Another explanation of this is that the Russian leadership is facing pressure from multiple agents of influence, which stand against vision of a powerful independent state seeking to act as one of the centers of power on the global stage. One more factor, often pointed out by experts, is the closed crony-caste system of elites. This system led to the creation of a leadership, which pursues its own narrow clannish interests. Apparently, all of these factors influence Russian foreign and domestic policies in one way or another.

The aforementioned large-scale anti-corruption campaign, regarding the people’s show-me attitude towards its result, could be a sign of a new emerging trend, which would lead to a purge of the corrupt elites and to strategic changes in Russian domestic policy.

It is highly likely that Russia will face hard times in the next two years (2019-2020) and face various threats and challenges to its economy, foreign policy course and even to its statehood.

Imran Khan’s “Socialist Revolution” in Pakistan

Global Research, February 20, 2019

In order to assess the prospects of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) as a political institution, we need to study its composition. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems the worst decision Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took in his political career after returning from exile in November 2007 was his refusal to accept Musharraf-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) defectors back into the folds of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

After that show of moral uprightness in the essentially unprincipled realpolitik of Pakistan, the cronies of Pakistan’s former dictator General Pervez Musharraf joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice in droves and gave birth to a third nation-wide political force in Pakistan besides Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

If we take a cursory look at the Pakistan Movement for Justice’s membership, it is a hodgepodge of electable politicians from various political parties, but most of all from the former stalwarts of the Musharraf-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

Here is a list of a few names who were previously the acolytes of General Pervez Musharraf and are now the ‘untainted’ leaders of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice which has launched a nation-wide crusade against corruption in Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen, a billionaire businessman who was formerly a minister in General Musharraf’s cabinet; Sheikh Rasheed, although he has not formally joined Imran Khan’s political party, he has become closer to Imran Khan than any other leader except Imran Khan’s virtual sidekick, Jahangir Tareen, and has been appointed minister for railways in Imran Khan’s cabinet; and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a former stalwart of Pakistan People’s Party who served as Pakistan’s foreign minister from 2008 to 2011 until he was disgracefully forced to resign after the Raymond Davis affair and the US Navy Seals operation in Abbottabad in 2011 in which Osama bin Laden was killed, though he has once again been appointed foreign minister in Imran Khan’s new cabinet last year.

I would implore the readers to allow me to scribble a tongue-in-cheek rant here on Imran Khan’s “Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) Revolution”: This struggle for revolution isn’t the first of its kind in Pakistan and it won’t be the last. The first such “socialist revolution” took place back in 1953 against the unjust status quo of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and Khawaja Nazimuddin’s Muslim League.

The revolutionary heroes of yore, Ghulam Muhammad, Iskander Mirza and General Ayub Khan, laid the foundations of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in Pakistan. The first lasted from 1958 to 1971, and its outcome was the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis and the separation of East Pakistan.

The second such “socialist revolution” occurred against the “elected dictatorship” of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and the “revolutionary messiah,” General Zia-ul-Haq, ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988 with an iron hand. After sufficiently consolidating the gains of the “revolution” in Pakistan, he also exported the “revolution” throughout the Af-Pak region.

The immediate outcome of the “revolution” was the destabilization of the whole region. It spawned many tadpole “revolutionaries” whose names we now hear in the news every day, such as the Taliban, the Haqqanis, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The last such “Marxist-Leninist revolution” took place against the “monopoly capitalism” and “corrupt cronyism” of Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League in 1999.

On a serious note, however, the reason why Imran Khan is desperate now is that despite forming the provincial government and ruling the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province for five years from 2013 to 2018 and then forming the government in the center last year, he has no tangible achievements to show. Criticizing the government from opposition benches and making electoral promises is always easy, but showing visible improvement in the affairs of governance is a hard sell.

The electoral pledges of cracking down on corruption and doing away with bureaucratic red-tape might earn him a few brownie points in front of his immature audience, but to treat the malady of corruption, we must first accurately identify the root causes of corruption. Corruption and economy are inter-linked. The governments of prosperous, developed countries can afford to pay adequate salaries to their public servants; and if public servants are paid well, then they don’t have the incentive to be corrupt.

There are two types of corruption: need-based corruption and greed-based corruption. Need-based corruption is the kind of corruption in which a poor police constable, who has a large family to support, earns a meager salary; he then augments his salary by taking bribes to make ends meet. I am not justifying his crime, but only describing the factual position.

Whereas the instance of greed-based corruption, which is often legitimized, is the corporate exploitation of resources and workforce by behemoth multinational corporations whose wealth is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars, far more than the total size of the economies of developing countries.

After establishing the fact that corruption and economy are inter-linked, we need to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan what is his economic vision to improve Pakistan’s economy, and on what basis does he claim to improve the economy on a nation-wide scale when he failed to make any visible improvement in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province during the Pakistan Movement for Justice’s five-year rule in the province from 2013 to 2018?

Finally, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are the experienced political parties in Pakistan. They learned their lesson from the politics of confrontation during the 1990s that Pakistan’s military establishment employs the Machiavellian divide-and-conquer tactic of hobnobbing with weaker political parties against stronger political forces in order to disrupt the democratic process and maintain the establishment’s stranglehold on its traditional domain, the security and defense policy of Pakistan.

The new entrant in Pakistan’s political landscape, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice, will also learn this lesson after paying the price of colluding with the establishment, but by then, it might be too late.

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Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and the Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

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